Angelina Jolie Wines with Winemaking Consultant Clark Smith

Mar4th

Introduction

Why would you want to challenge a young wine with oxygen? Why don’t you hear many technical conversations around wine? How can movie genres help you understand a winemaker’s intentions?

In this episode of the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast, we’re chatting with Clark Smith, winemaker for his own WineSmith label and several other brands, consulting winemaker, author, inventor, musician, and professor to the wine industry throughout the globe.

You can find the wines we discussed here.

 

Highlights

  • What is the $50,000 winery phenomenon?
  • Why shouldn’t you think of wine as a “chemical solution”?
  • Why would you want to challenge a young wine with oxygen?
  • How can you draw a parallel between making wine and making a soufflé?
  • What can you learn from Clark’s oxygen appetite analysis of wine?
  • What should you do every time you open a bottle of wine?
  • How can movie genres help you understand a winemaker’s intentions?
  • What does Clark want you to know about Cabernet Franc?
  • What do you experience when tasting “minerality”?
  • Does soil impact minerality in wine?
  • Where does Clark think winemakers from California and Canada are missing the mark?
  • Why is it problematic for you to think of wines according to the grape varietal only?
  • What differences can you see in the North American wine industry now versus in the 1970s?
  • Why don’t you hear many technical conversations around wine?
  • Is wine better when you aren’t able to identify the influence of the winemaker?
  • Why should you take pride in wine manipulation?
  • Why did Clark transition from selling to making wine?
  • What was the inspiration behind starting WineSmith?
  • When did Clark realise he wanted to go into winemaking?
  • Which innovation is most memorable for Clark?
  • How did Clark become interested in reverse osmosis?

 

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About Clark Smith

Clark Smith, winemaker for his own WineSmith label and several other brands, has dedicated four decades to being a consulting winemaker, author, inventor, musician, and professor to the wine industry throughout the globe.

A product of M.I.T. and U. C. Davis, he has founded and managed four prominent start-ups and consulted for thousands of wineries and other craft beverage producers and suppliers throughout the world. He holds patents for volatile acidity (VA) removal and alcohol adjustment via reverse osmosis. Founding Winemaker for R. H. Phillips in the 1980s, Clark Smith began WineSmith Consulting in 1990 and founded Vinovation, Inc. in 1992 to commercialize new winemaking technologies including ultra-filtration and micro-oxygenation.

The IQ Conference named him 2016 Innovator of the Year. His ground-breaking Postmodern Winemaking Symposium format, which brings together 100 experienced experts for a lecture-free round-table discussion, is among the Wine Industry’s most celebrated events.

 

Wine Reviews

 

Resources

 

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  • Join me on Facebook Live Video every second Wednesday at 7 pm eastern for a casual wine chat.
  • You’ll find my books here, including Unquenchable: A Tipsy Quest for the World’s Best Bargain Wines and Red, White and Drunk All Over: A Wine-Soaked Journey from Grape to Glass.
  • The new audio edition of Red, White and Drunk All Over is now available on Amazon.ca, Amazon.com and other country-specific Amazon sites; iTunes.ca, iTunes.com and other country-specific iTunes sites; Audible.ca and Audible.com.

 

Transcript & Takeaways

Welcome to episode 66!

Would you rather drink a wine that is styled like the actress Angelina Jolie or the French philosopher Bertrand Russell?

Do you know how modern winemaking techniques are affecting the wines you drink and why you should care?

Our guest on the podcast today has some stimulating and controversial ideas to change the way you think about the wines you drink.

Clark Smith is a winemaker, consultant, author, inventor, musician, professor and provocateur to the wine industry around the planet.

This conversation first aired on my regular Facebook live video show so occasionally you’ll hear me respond to viewer questions and comments. You can join that conversation every second Wednesday at 7 pm eastern.

I’ll put a link where you can find us in the show notes, as well as links to Clark’s website, social media handles and the video version of this conversation at nataliemaclean.com/66.

Our internet connection was a bit shakey so the audio is a little echoey in places, and the interview ends abruptly when we lost the connection. However, I know you’ll find Clark’s ideas well worth the extra listening effort this week.

Speaking of connections, why not connect with me personally? Sign up for my free, online video wine class the 5 Wine & Food Pairing Mistakes That Can Ruin Your Dinner (and how to fix them forever!)?

Go to nataliemaclean.com/class and choose a time and date that work for you. I look forward to seeing you inside the class!

Okay, on with the show!

You can also watch the video interview with Clark that includes bonus content and behind-the-scenes questions and answers, including a visual of the output from the reverse osmosis process, that weren’t included in this podcast.

 

Well, there you have it! I hope you enjoyed this chat with Clark Smith.

Here are my takeaways:

  1. I love Clark’s comparison of soulful wines to a rich bisque versus a thin consomme. He compares a souffle in which the egg whites are suspended through the whisking process to tannins in wine that are suspended throughout the wine by adding oxygen. Then, just as egg yolks are folded back into the mixture to create a richer meringue, so too in wine when the lees (expired yeast cells that have a lovely bready character) are brought back into the wine during aging.
  2. It’s fascinating that he can measure the oxygen appetite of wine inside a bottle to predict how well and how long it’ll age.
  3. This man of metaphors compares styles of wines to three types of movies. The first are made to please you with lots of sweetness and oak, like Disney comedies and I’d add Hallmark Channel rom-coms. The second are action/adventure movies that are made to impress you with lots of heft and concentration, like explosions and special effects. The third type requires you to work harder to understand them like foreign films, especially those with subtitles. His favourite, of course, is this third category and he especially likes Cabernet Franc for that reason.
  4. I love his term throat energy for vibrant wines with racy acidity.
  5. Clark says that wine communicates soul to soul and represents that marvelous intersection between science and the humanities, a sweet spot that Steve Jobs liked to occupy with his iPhones.
  6. Clark is provocative with statements such as winemaking is a fancy form of canning to preserve fruit, but the underlying idea is solid. Chefs take pride in manipulating their ingredients, whether it’s to create a foam essence or to caramelize something, why do winemakers feel that they can’t touch their fruit and must be as low intervention as possible. Of course, everything can be taken to the extreme, but I think that another word for intervention is artistry.

If you liked this episode, please tell a friend about it, especially one who’s interested in the fascinating wine insights Clark shared. You’ll find links to Clark’s website, social media handles, the video version of this conversation and where you can find us on Facebook live every second Wednesday at 7 pm in the show notes at nataliemaclean.com/66.

Finally, if you want to connect with me personally, join me in a free online video class at nataliemaclean.com/class.

You won’t want to miss next week when we’ll be chatting with Elyse Lambert, who not only has earned the coveted Master Sommelier designation, but she also was named Canada’s Best Sommelier and came fifth in the World’s Best Sommelier event. She has lots of tips and tricks for us when it comes to learning about and appreciating wine next Wednesday.

Thank-you for taking the time to join me here. I hope something great is in your glass this week, perhaps a wine that speaks to your soul!

 

Full Transcript

Natalie (00:03):
Would you rather drink a wine that is styled like the American actress Angelina Jolie or the French philosopher Bertrand Russell? Do you know how modern winemaking techniques are affecting the wines you drink and why you should care? Our next guest has some provocative and stimulating ideas to change the way you think about the wines you drink. I’m Natalie MacLean, editor of Canada’s largest wine review site @Nataliemaclean.com And we meet here every week at 6:00 PM or six 30 sometimes when the technology doesn’t work. 6:00 PM Eastern time, Toronto, New York time and chat with the most intriguing people in the wine world.

Natalie (01:20):
I’m going to welcome, Clark Smith who joins me live from California. Hello Clark. Hi. Thanks for the wave. I’m going to I almost have to read your intro because it is so fascinating and specific, you’ve had such an Augusta history, so bear with me. Have a sip of wine while I read. So our guests, Clark Smith, who joins us this evening. I love it because he has created a firestorm in the wine industry, dividing winemakers and wine lovers alike around the idea of wine manipulation.

Natalie (02:22):
What is that? He’s going to answer it. Clark will also explain some of the hottest technologies that help, why making and how splitting the atom changed the way and the way we make white wine and altered our perception if he doesn’t believe us. Anyway, I’m going to go back to this shot. All right. Clark has spent more than four decades, as a winemaker, author, innovator, musician, and professor in the wide world. He is a product of MIT, UC Davis and trained over 4,000 winemaking professionals. The IQ conference name TM 2016 innovator of the year in the wide world. He holds several patents in winemaking and his book, postmodern winemaking has was named by wine and spirits magazine.

Natalie (03:18):
Yeah, there you go. Whoa. Nice expression. His book was named wine spirits magazines. 2013 wine book of the year. Welcome, Clark Smith. Hello. You can wave again if you like. Oh my goodness. Okay. So it’s so great to have you here. So I introduced you, I left out things. Tell us more about you and maybe share a little bit also about your personal life. If you would Clark over to you if you can hear me.

Clark (04:04):
Gee, I guess in a nutshell.

Clark (04:12):
well, in a nutshell, East coast brat from my New Jersey. Right. I picked up my attitude.

Natalie (04:24):
love it. Wandered

Clark (04:25):
out to California and got a job in a liquor store in 1971. And then, you know, that was when the ones, she was really tiny. There were only about 250 wineries in the United States, Canada at that time. And it was a time when you could get to know everybody, and taste all align today. That would be quite impossible. There are over a hundred times that many wineries and wines out there now, but, there was this kind of explosion. I got pretty excited about it. And, in, 1976, I was visiting some wineries in Oregon. Was it? It was talking with bill fuller and I just said, you know, I gotta get in on this thing, so I think I’m going to stop selling it and start making it. My wife turned to me and said, I wondered when you were going to figure that out.

Clark (05:18):
so I started with a little winery called Veeder crest that had some vineyards in Napa. and then I went to Davis and finished up the bachelors in the ministers in the night. I got hooked up with some rowers in the Dunnigan Hills in the Central Valley. And, we started a brand called RH Philips, which, we started off about $2 million in debt and 3000 cases. and then we, 17 years later, we were a third of a million in Vencore. Canadian company bought us for $94 million.

Natalie (06:02):
Yes. Now constellation, now Arterra, there’s been three jumps since then. Yeah.

Clark (06:09):
and I don’t know. So I explored making, you know, the wine that a big wine where you’re creating a big winery. , but I noticed that we never made any extra money. When we got bigger. We always seem to make $50,000. You know, when we were 300 cases, who made $50,000, we were 3 million, three a third of a million cases. We made $50,000. So I decided to figure out how small I could get and still make $50,000. And so I make a wine Smith now I started this brand.

Natalie (06:09):

Clark (06:49):
Well, that’s my, that’s my fancy Napa Cabernet.

Natalie (06:52):
Why do you call it crucible?

Clark (06:55):
Well, part of it is that it, I think it’s not like a Napa Cabernet. It’s not an impact on wine. I think a lot of Napa Cabernet has gotten to be kind of clown wine, you know, with lots of alcohol and, and nasty tannins and even sugar. And I like big, something a little more classic. my training’s in Bourdeaux. and so that’s part of it. Part of it is that the cannons are sort of melted. Like, you know what a crucible is? It’s a little bowl that jewelers used to alloy metals together.

Natalie (07:35):
I always think of Nathaniel Hawthorne, the crew, the crucible, and just, or, you know, like testing your metal, whatever.

Clark (07:43):
Yeah. Yeah. And then there’s of course, the Arthur Miller play about the Salem witch trials. So there’s been a dynamic tension in everything I do. so anyway, so I, I, I know I make about a thousand cases and I make $50,000, you know, so, um, tearing your sweet spot. Well, I think it’s everybody’s, I’ve told the story a thousand times and, you know, we have like 25,000 wineries and they all kind of make $50,000,

Natalie (08:15):
25,000 wineries in California?

Clark (08:18):
No, no, in, in North America.

Natalie (08:20):
In North America. Okay. Wow. I didn’t even know there were that many

Clark (08:25):
Canada. there’s actually 9,000 bonded wineries, but most brands know, well, we’ll make lunch together

Natalie (08:36):
like a virtual winery. I think they call it our custom label or whatever. We call it cakes, but no tips like that. Big hat. No cattle. Exactly. Yeah.

Clark (08:50):
So anyway, so I, I did that and I started at the end of, I think I was making really good modern white wines and my red wines are kind of awful. And well I think it was because of this idea that we had been taught in school, in winemaker school, that that wine is a chemical solution. And I’ve come to realize that that’s not true.

Natalie (09:17):
What do you mean by the chemical solution?

Clark (09:19):
Well just, just, you know, like water and alcohol with a bunch of stuff dissolved in it

Natalie (09:24):
so it can be scientifically defined or a recipe or whatever.

Clark (09:29):
Yeah. Through you. In other words, just a random mix of like soda pop. But actually I’ve come to realize that it’s, that it has a structure, the way like a Bearnaise sauce has a structure or a beast has a structure, you know, would you rather, would you rather have a vegetable or a lobster feast? Do you know what I’m talking about? But the feast is much more soulful and that’s because it has, it has suspended ]

Natalie (09:29):

Clark (10:17):
And but, but if you compare like a, like a constant, a is basically a solution of vegetable flavors,

Natalie (10:25):
right? I like that

Clark (10:27):
has a fatty part and a watery part and they’re very finely blended together. And so that, that allows that, that beast to have a whole lot of different flavors all married together. Like a symphony orchestra, and that’s what makes it much more soulful than a constant makes it empty.

Natalie (10:47):
Oh. And you know, your music, which is a whole other topic which we can dive into tonight. Now tell me w we missed the whole part, cause I know we shared, you shared some, some of your personal life. Tell me a little bit of that, if you’re willing to share it with the group here tonight about,

Clark (11:04):
I live in Santa Rosa, California and I make wines, all over California. and I, and I have about a hundred clients scattered around us and Canada and some overseas. I, you know, I’m very, very musical. I am in a barbershop quartet and the Robert Schoch corral, and I’m actually the president of the Redwood corpsmen, which is our, our local barbershop chorus. And then I sing in my wife’s, church choir.

Natalie (11:39):
And you just got married.

Clark (11:41):
I just got married. her name is Ruthie Wells and she’s, she’s extremely wonderful and there are great, singer, composer and musical director.

Natalie (11:52):
Sounds very harmonious.

Natalie (12:45):
, Clark, what is your favorite or most memorable innovation? You know, you’re such an innovator. We would love to hear kind of what stands out for you. You’ve got patents, all kinds of things. So tell us.

Clark (13:46):
I think the most important thing that I’ve ever worked up was, this oxygen appetite thing. We’ve got this gizmo costs about $10,000. And what it does is it, it looks through the bottle, we glue it down on the inside of the glass so it can measure the oxygen content inside of a bottle of wine without opening it up. So there, it allows us to, so look at how fast that’s changing and make predictions about how long the wine can age of how much, uh,

Natalie (14:24):
Is that at all linked to micro-oxygenation? I mean, we’ve got a broad audience here tonight. They’re not techies. Some of them are, I’m sure. But we want to keep it broad and open. So I’m going to ask you questions, but a

Clark (14:34):
a little bit, you know, I can explain micro rocks really easily. It’s like, we take, tannin and wine has red. We’re talking about the red one. And so they, they have a lot of young, unstructured tan, and when they’re young and they also have all these, when you make a souffle, you separate the yolk from the white. Now the whites are like the cants. All right. So we’re just gonna, we’re gonna make, make those tannins into a rich life stable structure with the wire widths, right? Only we use oxygen to turn the tannins into a rich light structure. So we ended up with a wine that has more volume in the mouth, and it’s, and it’s more refined but also ages longer

Natalie (15:21):
because you’ve separated the tannin somehow.

Clark (15:25):
Well, if we have the leaves present, when we do this, it doesn’t work because the leaves just gobble up all the oxygen. So that’s a little bit like when you try to make a souffle, you have to make a Marangu first and then you can fold them, fold the yolks back in for fatness and, and enrich this, that’s what we do with easterlies, but we have to wait until we built the structure or the whole thing. So this is a timing issue. , so we’re able, wine is kind of homeopathic, so we challenge the one with oxygen. When it’s young, it gets stronger and it can age a lot longer. So we’re not oxidizing worldwide. We’re building its structure using oxygen. And, and so it would be handy to be able to measure how much she, how much life energy that wine has so that, well it could be that it’s a wine you just made and you want to know which program to put it in or whether it be blending or could it be something you’re just about a bottle and you want to see if it’s ready to bottle or if it’s going to get, you know, reductive in the bottle and all stinky, on close upon you.

Clark (16:35):
Or, let’s just say you’re thinking about, you’re at a wine auction and you’re thinking about, you see a case of 1970 Latour and they’d like to know whether it’s dead or not. We can measure all those things, by looking at the wine talks to appetite. So I think that’s a really cool thing to be able to do

Natalie (16:58):
that is, I’m sort of grasping it though.  It sounds to me it’s like putting your three-year-old in the playground, letting them eat dirt to build up resistance anyway.

Clark (17:10):
Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s kinda like that. , so if any of this stuff, you know, I have a website who is Clark smith.com and it’s got the geeky stuff and the postmodern and stuff in the lane and music stuff and, and, and you know, stories about the wines and videos about the wines and all that stuff. Just that’s, that’s the grand central station.

Natalie (17:31):
Absolutely. We’re going to mention that a few times. That is the question and no, but you’ve got some great videos on there and some great resources from layman to techie and I do recommend people come to it.

Clark (17:46):
Maybe I ought to a kick in this movie analogy that you’ve been alluding to. I’m not quite sure how Angelina Jolie got into it, but

Natalie (17:56):
that’s from an article that was about you. But anyway, go ahead.

Clark (17:59):
Well, I do think every consumer when every time they open up a bottle of wine, they ought to start trying to speculate about what the winemaker was trying to do. And that’s really just like Netflix. There’s a kind of three kinds of movies. You’ve got your Disney comedies that make you smile. And so those are wines that are trying to shoot your basket. You know, like They’re going, okay, please me. You know, I have, I have desires. I have, I have loved peace be, you know, so there are wines that are designed to do that and they often have sugar or a lot of Oak or something like that. And, , and you know, the point of the wine is not really about the wine at all. It’s, it’s just about broken to. then you’ve got the action-adventure, wines, you know, sorta like Claude Van Damm movies, you know, diesel and Bruce Willis and all those guys.

Clark (19:01):
and that’s, those wines aren’t even supposed to be particularly pleasant, but they’re, they’re supposed to really impress you. And, I think that’s kinda what’s happened to the Napa Cabernet is that it’s so expensive that people think, wow, you know, for 300 bucks a bottle, you outta slap me around a little bit. so those are impact wines that the whole idea is that you tasted it, you go, wow. Do you know? So, I don’t make ones like that at all. It tastes, I don’t knock your socks off when you taste my wines, you still be fully clothed. But, I kinda hope that you’d be sorry when it’s gone. So that’s a little bit more like dramas and foreign films where, you know, you’ve kinda talked itself into even trying them and, but those will be, those would be the movies that at the end you go on, you know? Okay, that’s five stars out of there.

Natalie (19:56):
You had to work, you had to read the subtitles, but you remember the plot.

Clark (20:00):
Right? Right, exactly. So you have to work out a little bit. And I think, you know like I really love Cabernet Franc and one of the things I like about it is is that you have to work at it. You have to shoot the wines basket. , just, just like if you were, you know, listening to Mozart or, rap, you go, well, you know, a lot of people love this. I wonder what it is they love about it. And, and you have to investigate instead of just sticking with your own little, tastes that you had when you were five years old, you could start delving into different kinds of pleasure, that you might not,

Natalie (20:39):
or for grownups. So you segwayed nicely. I’ve got cave spring Cabernet Franc from Niagara. What is it? Cabernet Franc you love so much because I watched your video on that, which was excellent.but tell us a little bit why you love cab franc.

Clark (20:57):
Father of Cabernet Sauvignon That’s a little weird because, you know, Cabernet Sauvignon is a big boy. , and, I, kind of think of it like a Cabernet Sauvignon will always be generous. It’ll be rich and dense and muscular. And if it’s made right, you know, in other words, it’s kind of like arms Schwartzenegger and maybe you can put them in a nice tux, you know? But, Cabernet frolics more like Jamie Lee Curtis, you know, a lot more floors on the intellectual elevator leader.

Natalie (21:37):
No

Clark (21:37):
more energetic and a little smarter. and so, so Cabernet Sauvignon is generous and broad Cabernet Franc is energetic and also ages a lot longer even though it’s not, even though it’s not a big one. Well, we’re not really sure. it’s a very vigorous fine. And if you can convince it in poor soil that you’ve put that energy into a root system, then it’ll pull all kinds of minerality out of the soil. We’re not sure what minerality is. I got a whole chapter in my book and it doesn’t really say anything.

Natalie (22:17):
Yeah,

Clark (22:17):
well, I mean, we just don’t know what it is. We know what kinds of soils that come on and that organic practices can support it. It’s a kind of energy. I’m not talking about the smell of wet stoner talking about this buzz in the finished, which is often confused with the city.

Natalie (22:33):
Yeah, that’s, I’ve heard that before. I’ve just still in search of a good definition.

Clark (22:38):
Well, you know, people will talk about, Moses, they go, well, geez, these are pencil-thin little wines, but they age 30 years because of the acidity. And that’s not true. , because we have, we can make wines with just as much acidity, but they don’t age very well at all. Uh, it’s really, it’s, it’s like acid. It’s that same kind of tingle, but it’s in the throat and, all Portuguese port channel because they’re all by law, grown on shifts, pretty much all burgundies, habit because they’re grown in limestone.

Natalie (23:15):
So shifts just for those who don’t know, how is that related to the soil? Is that like limestone? What is that?

Clark (23:21):
Oh, she just, it’s iron, uh, containing sediments that were stacked on top of each other. And then through tectonic plate action, they get turned up like this. So it’s soil. It’s a, it’s like granite that’s on its side.

Natalie (23:40):
Oh, so many different features. It’s very rare,

Clark (23:46):
but the whole, region of where in the door of where a port is made, it’s, is all shifts. , that’s the first appellation in history. And in fact, it was a beheading offense to try to sell grapes from off of the shifts. The markers through the apostle Paul would cut your head off here. Who would cut your head off the Mark is kind of in the middle of rather drastic. They took it seriously. It’s all I’m saying so, so I don’t know why., I make this, this a full shabbily it’s a Chardonnay from Napa.

Natalie (24:24):
Okay. it’s made from Chardonnay unOaked I assume. Right?

Clark (24:31):
Well, I use some, but it’s not, it doesn’t have any toast or butter. I don’t think it’s electric. And, the current vintage is 2005. It takes 12 years for it to come around in the bottle.

Natalie (24:46):
So you don’t release it for that long. Yeah. Wow. That’s how you stick to 50,000 a year, I’m sure. Like you’ve tied it all up in your cellar.

Clark (24:55):
Yeah. Well, it just isn’t ready, but I think it’s kind of a miraculous wine. , but it’s the minerality. I’m convinced that makes it a bridge that we really don’t know chemically what’s going on. But I hope to talk to him.

Natalie (25:09):
Oh, I’d like to hear more about that throat energy though. I like that. Versus just plain old acidity. So, Clark, you wanted me to pick up a couple of Cabernet francs because you love them, but also you asked me to get a Napa cat, our story and Niagara Cabernet franc. So I got cave spring and you want to talk about the way Cabernet Franc is treated in different regions? The other one I was able to pick up was from, mostly st immediate young. So it has a large percentage of Cabernet Franc. Yeah. With cap, with Merlot, I think I can’t read it.

Clark (26:08):
Yeah, they’re usually about two-thirds cap for awkward third Maryland.

Natalie (26:11):
Now, what are we looking for when we look at the differences in how cap from is treated say in these regions? And there’s more, I tried to find a lower Valley Cabernet Franc our dear. LCBO did not have them. so, but to talk about these two, well,

Clark (26:27):
That’s a good place to start. here’s this is the whole basis of postmodernism is that, well let’s just say Chateau LA tour makes lousy poetry.

Natalie (26:49):
What do you mean by that? Wrong grape in the right region. right.

Clark (26:55):
You’re right. That there’s no such thing as a good one. What there is, is, is good for the moment, good for the occasion, appropriate, appropriate to the terroir. , and you’re not supposed to make big, heavy, long-aging wines in Beaujolais. You’re supposed to make light fruity picnic ones. And if you had a picnic and you took a young bottle of chapter Latour out there, it’d be awful. Yeah. So, and I really do think that California is really in Canada to really missing the boat. Well in general, trying to market our wines based on variety and naming rather than a place name. you know, Europe’s grown way beyond that now. And so, you know, it would be silly, in France to do a Cabernet franc paste because you’d never know. You need to know which ones are t because those are supposed to be steely, you know, just very masculine, piercing, kind of, kind of cold ones. whereas a is always, uh, very feminine, very generous. , the sort of lamb fat from the Merrill low fills in the cracks and you end up with a very round, warm, comforting one. so their job is just completely different. , they’re both Cabernet francs, but it’s, it’s silly to speak of them in that way because there’s more variation, between the two regions than, then a single variety and language.

Natalie (28:39):
It’s more accounted for the region than the grape.

Clark (28:42):
Yeah. Yeah. I really think so. And we don’t even think of wines that way. in North America we just go, Oh, well I have a shark. Well, what kind of Chardonnay? What, where was it from? and, and Cabernet from probably varies from region to region more than any other grapes. So, so Niagara is really interesting because the, uh, if, if it’s grown right, it’s very fleshy. It has a lot of colors and some roundness to it. That’s a pure Cabernet from there yet. But, but, but, it will still have this edge. Really compare it to a, to a French one. I’d say it’s more like a broth, you know, pretty much cab franc. Well, certainly it’s not as steely as a noir wine and not as fat feminine as a center. So a little more manly wine.

Natalie (29:45):
Okay. That’s really interesting. o yeah, no, we’re really pushing cab Franc in Canada, especially Ontario. It’s, there’s a movement here between game and Keppra. It is the cool climate really does well,

Clark (30:01):
you know, I really liked the ones up in the Prince Edward

Natalie (30:04):
Oh yeah. Yes, absolutely. That is an exploding, exciting region. There are so many great wineries out there. There’s 30 now and a number of them are doing cab franc. Yeah, absolutely. So let’s get back to you Clark. , can you take us back to the moment when you knew you wanted to make wine? Kind of, where were you, how did you feel? What was the moment you said, ah, I need,

Clark (30:28):
well, you know, the reason I dropped out at MIT is I just couldn’t decide what I wanted to do. You know, there were so many wonderful possibilities there. and I just, you know, Francis Crick and Noam Chomsky and, Laurie and Leacock all these people were my freshman teachers. That was crazy. And I, I just couldn’t pick something. But, and then when I was selling wine, you know, it was just, it was just a job at first. But then I started to see this huge multiplicity, and then I realized that it was an unexplored area that none of us knew what we’re doing. That’s because, you know, this comes back to this modern mind thing that, in 1968, 95% of the wine made in California, which basically made the United States, was poured. And Sherry, we really didn’t have any table one.

Clark (31:31):
we, you know, even in 76 when, when won the tasting in Paris, there were only 11 acres of Chardonnay in the Napa Valley. And then that wine was from Sonoma. you know, we really, we didn’t know anything and our wines were sort of terrible. I mean, half the wine on the shelf back then would have been considered unmerchantable today. , so we were learning, you know, I thought that was really cool and we were, we were growing, it seemed like a way to make a contribution. And I guess what attracts me to wine, just like music, is that it’s, it’s science and service to art. It’s highly technical, but in the end, it’s really about, about communicating soul to soul. It’s very human.

Natalie (32:20):
I love that. It’s the intersection that science and humanity, even Steve jobs talked about that the best brains together, those two worlds.

Clark (32:28):
Yeah. Yeah. And I think, you know, in the end, the human connection is, even in science, the human connection is really what it’s all about. And I think scientists are to spend a lot more thinking about their relationship to observation as humans, what observation really is and then also the social consequences of discoveries.

Natalie (32:51):
Absolutely. There’s been so much talk about that like I’m not going to get off track, but with the Google memo fund, that engineer coming out doing soft skills, actually it’s where they meet and

Clark (33:02):
right, right. I actually think that the, what we call the hard sciences are really soft and the soft sciences are really the hard sciences cause they get closer to what’s actually going on, which is human interference. I’m actually writing, my next book is called the myth of science. I just got back from a month in Ireland writing. You were

Natalie (33:24):
so amazing. Hold up your book. Nice segue. Have you written several, so this is postmodern wine-making? This is the one that was the 2013 wine book of the year by wine and spirits magazine.

Clark (33:37):
Yeah. And we got to the top of,

Natalie (33:41):
Oh, the New York Times.

Clark (33:43):
So the times look good. Well, yeah, that’s my first published book. I’ve been writing articles for 40 years. but, anyway, the next one will be called the myth silence.

Natalie (33:56):
I mean, if the science, we look forward to it. , so Clark, you, you have caused lots of controversy in the wine world, which is, I always love to talk to someone who is interesting. Like you, why have people polarized around your views? The whole wine manipulation thing. What is that? If you could sort of boil it down for us. So why are people all in a kerfuffle about that?

Clark (34:51):
Well, I think it’s really our fault as winemakers when we, you know, in the 70s when, as I said, we didn’t know what we were doing, so we were all talking to each other and it was a very, very open industry. As you started to get more competitive. And also all this new technology started coming up. And the, you know, used to be that everybody that drank wine was a geek. , and you could talk to them about very complex things. Now it’s gotten sort of dumbed-down more and more. And, and so we’re reluctant to kind of drag people through the dirt of, of, of, of technical conversations that they may not really have the bandwidth for., and so been perfectly comfortable for them to think, you know, Lucy stomps the grapes and, and then, you know, then we put some vodka in it.

Clark (35:44):
And that’s one, that’s what most people think when it is. , and we haven’t done very much educated public. I think we were a little remiss in that, in particular when some of these, I mean, here’s what’s weird is that Y making change completely and forever, right around world war two at the same time as the American kitchen, you know, refrigerators, stainless steel, electric lights, that’s all brand new. You know, wineries never had any of that stuff. Troll fermentations, they will still, you know, this was the big revolution. Nobody ever even noticed it because we all grew up with these kitchen appliances and stuff and we were perfectly comfortable, with electric lights since stainless steel and refrigeration LLC. It doesn’t seem like technology, but it completely changed. but then some stuff got a little geekier like reverse osmosis and illogical uses of oxygen when everybody had been taught that oxygen is the enemy of wine.

Clark (36:51):
And it just got kind of complicated. So people just stopped talking about it. And, you know, I invented, for example, a way to take a scenic acid out, a basically vinegar. Why would we want to do that? Is it a fault? yeah, yeah, sure. It’s sourness. And the finish. but the weird thing is that the grapes that get, that turned to vinegar are the best grapes, which ones? Well, like, like really good Napa Cabernets for example. you know, the birds will go find the best vineyard and attack and that’s where the bacteria come from. STO. so mostly we were dealing with really high-end wines that had sport and we figured out a way to take the seat, gas it out. Well, nobody really wants to talk about that sort of open-heart surgery. So, so we just kind of got in the habit, of becoming, more and more secretive and more and more just saying, I do the minimum, that’s a mantra I pick between the raindrops.

Clark (37:59):
And I’m known interventionist. Well, you know, thousands. winemakers I believe. I mean, they’re all sweating bullets 24, seven, three 65, you know, and I think we’re, uh, we’re really deceiving ourselves that, why make us work really hard? And, I do think that it’s important, for the winemaker’s work to be invisible. What do you mean by that? Like, just the influence of the wanting to anchor. I mean, for me, yeah, I want to show the, if I’m going to use, Oh, I want it to be invisible. I want it to be in support. , it’s sort of like a cosmetics, you know, to be the most skillful, if, if a woman is putting makeup on, it’s great. If you can’t tell she’s wearing it just enhances in some subtle ways. so that’s kind of the way I like to work with, with one. And that’s a lot of work to be invisible. , it’s not, it’s not like there are wines of effort. You know, Randall Graham’s one of my best friends, but he’s always talking about Dan deadfall invented, go out and, excuse me. so in any way, we’re just chefs, you know, we’re coos. Why make things our fancy form of candy? Um,

Natalie (39:32):
that’s going to go to, it’s preserving food. Okay.

Clark (39:38):
And so, you know, all wine is very highly manipulated. , those aren’t grapes in the glass. Well, it’s, it’s one. And you know, we crush it, we press it, we ferment it, we age it, we do all kinds of stuff. And, and that’s the, you know, the definition of manipulation, meaning handling, with skill. Well, that’s another, it’s a synonym, for now, would be, and everybody admires that. Yeah. But it’s this idea of deceit that comes in with manipulation, you know, manipulating for your own purposes. , that gets in there and I think it’s just got to stop. I, I feel quite insulted when people talk about this now. I, I, they’ll usually be talking about wines that are badly made and I, I’m, I’m not in favor of bad cooking, but if you make, if you make the whole, the whole idea of intentionality in, in making wine into a crime, then people will be poorly educated about it and they’ll make shitty wine.

Clark (40:46):
And that’s what’s happening. And the whole natural wine movement mostly is coming from a stance. And I respect it. That wine has a sacredness to it, that beer and spirits really didn’t know him. I mean, nobody ever gives me rulers in shit about manipulation because that’s the essence of making beer. , but I do think that they’re getting at something and I also don’t think that we’ve been very forthright in, uh, you know, bragging about what we do. Wolfgang puck gets on TV and you know, say, well, I’ve got this really right, you, but I want to grade it and so I’m going to freeze it with liquid nitrogen. I want a watch.

Natalie (41:23):
Yeah. And they take pride in that. How I’m going to change this ingredient.

Clark (41:28):
We should too. I mean, I, I’ve developed,, a lot of new techniques and stuff, but I always tell people, don’t ever do anything that you don’t wanna brag about and then brag about it, you know, and share it with people cause you’re having fun, you know? Absolutely. We should talk about instead you go, Oh, you the minimum. It’s disgusting. I, I feel like accusing of winemaker of manipulation.

 

Clark (42:31):
Well, that, that was a, I didn’t even know what reverse osmosis was when I first hung out in my consulting shingle in 1990 it’s going to work for the Benzinger’s Bruno’s Bruno Benziger. His liver had gone bad on him and his doctor told him he had to quit drinking. So, so he got really interested in non-alcoholic wine and went off and bought a reverse. I was supposed to his unit and I got put in charge of trying to develop non-alcoholic, one of which was, that’s where I really started to learn that wine is not just a collection of flavors because you know, with non-alcoholic wine you can add anything you want. Um, and it’s like soda pop, you know, there’s no, no laws about any flavors, but it didn’t work because when I didn’t have an instruction that’sNatalie (45:17):

Natalie (43:15):
because of no alcohol.

Clark (43:18):
No, it’s just that if you don’t build the structure, you’re not going to have one. like the difference between a scrambled egg and a souffle when it has structure and the others just kind of a mesh. so that was the beginning of that. But anyway, when I was horsing around with this reverse osmosis, what it basically is, it’s just a really, really tight filter so that all the color and flavor and pen and in the wine stays on the upstream side and you just get water and alcohol. Very, very small molecules. And the other one is the seat of gas. So I said, wow. I was giving a talk about, sort of technical approaches to winemaking and flavor virus thing and that kind of stuff. Cause we’re very wasteful. And when streaming we, you know, we never tried to get all the flavor out of the skins or you lose a lot of aromas out of the fermentation vessels.

Clark (44:13):
You know, we just maybe half of the flavor that you start with. So I was giving a lecture about how we could go about making better wines, by retaining those flavors. And then I said, well, what if we got a flavor in the wine that we don’t want? Then we could figure out a way to get it out. And so this was the, I came up with, that you could just take that aro permeate that looks like water and run it through a water softer and it would just take the seat of gas it out and then you just put the water in the, I’ll call back and then you can take the ground women. And I didn’t think any more about it for a couple of months. And then one of the guys that did it, the lecture, so well, you know, we got this marijuana that’s got a lot of a VA and it’s

Natalie (44:57):
volatile acidity. Yeah.

Clark (44:59):
Yes. That’s the winemaker code for vinegar. , so we tried it and it worked like a charm the wine was dry and it was wonderful.

Natalie (45:09):
so this is spinning out elements that you don’t want reverse osmosis is spinning off

Clark (45:17):
trying to make the world spinning. I think you’re using it with the spinning cone get maybe, but I’m trying to put it in layman’s terms, so why don’t you do that rather than me? Well, you know, let me, give me a second. I’ll get a bottle of permanent.

Clark (45:57):
Okay, here we go. Okay. So this is Napa Cabernet. What do you do to it? That’s what comes through the filter. If I take a wine like this and put it through reverse osmosis, yeah, the wine doesn’t go through the filter, it just bleeds off some of this stuff as you call it, stuff. What is it? Water. It’s just water and a little alcohol. And to see the gas and that’s it. You’re trying to lower the alcohol. Well, maybe I am and maybe I’m not., when we’re taking it on VA, all we do is take the acid out of this and put the water in the alcohol back. Oh.but in California we do have the problem, that our air is too dry. And so, water evaporates from the grapes doesn’t do that in a, like a New York, Virginia, they make much, much more balanced wines than we do. France. France has too much water, so they have to add sugar to correct the APO. We need to take alcohol out. So the way we do it is to just take this stuff and run it through a, still take the alcohol out, put water back. Why is that disturbing? So many people because we don’t talk about it and then we’re not going to do it.

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